OK, confession time: I have not been playing Unreal as regularly as I would like. But, rest assured that I am still in this and having a good time. I actually flew through about six levels of the game and will outline what has happened since not much plot goes on in this pure FPS. A very interesting effect of getting back into this genre is my splintering of interests among similar small games. I have reinstalled Doom 2 and loaded up some custom WADs to play as a reference point for some parts since I think Unreal shares quite a lot of DNA with it. (Not to mention Quake and Quake 2, its immediate predecessors) These games are STILL incredibly fun and, besides graphics, have more going for them in terms of simplicity and solid design than many new things coming out. I’ll get into that later.
In other news, the Steam Summer sale is in full swing and I am doing an AMAZING job not getting my feet wet. Despite tons of sales on GoG and Steam, I have not made any new purchases because of what I still have ahead of me. The closest I got was for Witcher 2 because it seems like a pretty amazing game I want to play eventually, but who am I kidding? I haven’t even played the first one. So, for now, I am safe and have just been playing a few other small games since I do not feel as much pressure since I’m pretty good at Unreal and the levels are bite sized.
How’s Unreal Going?
How kind of you to ask. It is going very well. Unreal begins in a very common place for old FPS games: disaster. Doom started with the player entering a base to find your comrades slaughtered, in Duke3d Duke’s ride gets shot down, in Blood Caleb comes back from the grave, and so on. In Unreal, the unnamed main character is a prisoner on a transfer ship that gets caught in an unknown gravity well and crash lands on an alien world. After crashing, it quickly becomes apparent that everyone is dead, dangerous aliens are wandering around, and it is up to you to find a way to escape.
The whole first map (the ship itself) is a tutorial teaching the player how to move, jump, and crawl. What I like about this one is there is no drill sergeant telling you what to do, it just comes naturally. Plus, it can take the time to show off the cool new parts of the Unreal engine such as complex moving sectors, transparent textures, colored lighting, and reflective surfaces to the player. It does a pretty good job building tension by not showing any aliens except in quick glimpses in the distance to give you a fear of what they may be. What it does extremely well is leave the biggest surprise until the end…
[The vista was incredible at the time.]
Emerging from the ship into the alien world for the first time is one of the game’s most memorable moments and a scene that has gone down in history. Along with the first scene of Myst island, emerging from the boat in Morrowind, and E1M1 of Doom, the area outside of the prison ship in Unreal is seared into my brain. The furrow dug by the giant ship crashing, native huts in the distance, the giant chasm to the left, and the beautiful waterfall. Game engines had not really been used to make this kind of environment up to this point and it was very impressive.
After this, the game takes a more linear course with the player trekking through a mine to find an ancient temple to the water gods allowing passage to a ship that may be used for escape. Along the way you find that the big bad aliens have subjugated the peaceful natives for labor and a little back story becomes evident, but it is mostly told through small journal blurbs and context. It works well for what it is and provides enough color to keep the story going when all you are doing is running and gunning. I really like this attitude and wish it were adopted more often these days.
Nuts & Bolts
We all know, of course, that one of the major pleasures of FPS games are to have a wide arsenal of interesting weapons used for different purposes. Unreal sticks to this mentality and allows the player to carry a large amount instead of this two weapon BS. All of these weapons have both primary and secondary firing modes that can be used. Having the player carry so many weapons allows the designer to balance the enemy placement and strategy based on what he knows the player will have rather than making drops right before the situation occurs to be sure he or she can progress. So far, the game has bestowed upon me the following:
This default weapon is actually pretty good for an FPS in some ways, and no good in others. I like it because it a ranged pistol that does not permanently run out of ammunition. Once all its energy is used up, it must recharge during which you are defenseless. As the game progresses, it is also possible to find upgrades to keep it relevant. Despite all this, it is not very useful because the projectile has a very low speed and the gun does not have a ‘hypermode’ like most FPS default weapons do. Doom had the berserk pack and future games such as Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 had instagib melee weapons creating a good balance. The shot can be charged with alternate fire, but it is too slow to be useful except against stationary targets. This one is only OK.
[This thing won't do much against that sand crawler.]
The automag is the standard pistol weapon of the game. Nothing to really write home about here. It's a hit scan weapon, meaning that it hits whatever is under the cross hairs immediately. It has an alternate fire that is "gangsta grip" (holding the gun sideways) and fires rapidly but is wildly inaccurate. It's a pretty good early game workhorse.
[I always like accurate pistols. It was the only thing I liked about Halo.]
The third weapon is a machine gun that fires crystals for ammunition. It fires rapidly and the projectiles are fairly slow so I do not use it that much since the faster enemies can dodge them. What is extremely useful is the gun's alternate fire which shoots a shotgun type blast of four or five crystals that is very effective at short range. I only use this one for close up fighting.
[Some of the weapon models are not very impressive.]
This is one of my favorite guns and one of the best in the entire game of future Unreal Tournaments. This ultra accurate rifle shoots a hit-scan laser that will hit whatever you are pointing at with 100% accuracy. In single player this is convenient, but in multiplayer it is absolutely essential for taking out the other guy at long distance if your aim is good enough. The alternate fire is a slow energy bomb that is pretty useless. If you manage to shoot the ball before it hits anything, it will cause a massive explosion dealing lots of damage which, even though it is hard to use, is a key skill to pick up. This is my favorite gun so far.
[The newer sleeker model looks better.]
Eight Ball Launcher
The last gun I've picked up so far is the Eight Ball Launcher which, despite its name, is a six-barrelled rocket launcher that can either shoot one or multiple rockets at the same time depending on if you hold down the fire button. The alternate fire shoots the projectiles as grenades that bounce around until they detonate or hit a target. It's useful, but your standard rocket launcher that should be recognizable if you've played Doom or something similar. This would later become the rocket launcher in Unreal Tournament and could only fire a maximum of three simultaneous shots.
[Looks like a chaingun, but it's not.]
I don't have too much I can talk about other than my general impressions of the maps. The first several were pretty linear which makes sense as an introduction for the player. As I have progressed, the maps have become much more complex and open-ended with multiple paths leading to the same areas causing some confusion. I tend to enjoy these in other games if there is some defining feature that lets you differentiate each area. Most Doom levels will use different lighting or color schemes to aid this. In some of the temples in Unreal, I have run into identical rooms with unidentifiable features that lead to some confusion. I hope this does not continue.
[Colored lighting can really add a nice mood.]
I do enjoy the lighting of the levels. The mines are gloomy and have bright orange magma and glowing blue crystals to bring some punctuation. The temple levels are all aquatic colors with supernatural blue lighting seeming to emanate from the water itself which gives a spooky atmosphere. I'm liking what I am seeing, but the game seems to run into the standard "three palettes of mood" that other FPS games do. Doom has three distinct settings:
- Tech Base - Futuristic computers and goo all over the place
- Stone - Gothic structures using stone and rock patterns with wood accents
- Hell - Marble and stone along with red blood pools, fire, and wooden structures
In Unreal I have run into three themes that are Natural Stone, Tech Base, and Temples. The Stone pattern makes up the native villages and mines, tech base for the insides of ships and bases, and temples for... temples. Hopefully the designers shake it up a little bit.
The architecture is interesting, overall, with very alien constructions reminiscent of the Mayans for the temples. The other settings are pretty standard and functional for game play so I cannot complain. Unlike Doom, Unreal focuses on smaller amounts of enemies that are tougher and quicker making battles flow a little differently. Instead of having to heard and make monsters attack each other, you are required to do more dodging and one on one combat which is OK, but doesn't convey the sense of terror that Doom could spring on you.
[Anything not uniformly brown is usually welcome.]
Speaking of monsters...
There are not many monsters in this game so far. They all look OK, but are muddy colored and hard to see in detail. They are as follows:
The brute is a giant, slow, beefy guy that has two rockets launchers for hands and serves as dodging and target practice. There is not much challenge here unless a few gang up on you and you have a volley of rockets coming at you.
[Very easy and slow.]
The hanging plants do just that, hang. They are used to surprise the player more than anything. Once they open, they are immobile and can do nothing other than fire thorns that can be dodged easily. No problems here.
Kind of like Cliff Racers but less annoying, but they will mess you up if you let them get close.
Same as above, but they are much more agile and much more annoying. If you let them get close to you, you will probably die since they flit around and their path finding is weird so it is hard to predict which way they will go. On the flip side, since the path finding is so bad, it is hard for them to get close if you keep a look out and go down pretty easily.
This guy is the main enemy I have faced so far. It is a quick humanoid that has several attacks and moves that are very tough. When in melee range, it has blades on its hands that it uses to eviscerate you with. If you get out of range, he can quickly to a somersault roll toward you and hit you with the blades, as well. At long range, he has a double projectile cannon that shoots energy balls that are actually quite hard to dodge. The A.I. is good at leading its shots and predicting where you will be for maximum damage. Oh yeah, he can also dodge slow projectiles so you need to time your shots carefully. I usually go in close for three quick stinger shotgun blasts to take it down.
[Quick and dangerous.]
Sliths are half snake, half Skaarj enemies that are pretty slow and fire acid at the player. They are usually easy to deal with and go down easily. One problem is that once they get in water, they become much faster moving than you are. Always take them on out of the water and there is almost no trouble.
[They look scary, but are really chumps.]
Nothing to do but keep going. I will post what I think about levels and design, but I cannot imagine that they will be as in depth as previous entries unless some really cool stuff comes along. I'm enjoying the game, but it's not particularly great to blog about. I would suggest that you pick it up on GoG if it goes on sale since it is a classic and has a great feel to it. Check in next time for when we continue with Unreal.
Edit: I have actually progressed a little further right before posting. I had the first boss fight in a place called "The Dark Arena". It was a simple circular arena level where I had to fight a giant monster called a Titan. It is a slow moving juggernaut that can stomp the ground making you bounce up or toss rocks that insta-kill you. It was pretty easy and I took him down in one try. Other than that, everything is OK.
Also, do not forget that I have a Twitter account for @BacklogKiller where I like to tweet what I am doing. Unfortunately, I don't have many followers. Just follow me and get some updates. It's free and I promise not to spam your feed. Thanks a lot!